Visitors from Pakistan: (from left) Sobia Nosheen, Afghan exchange student visiting separately, Ali Ashtar Naqvi, Satwat Butt, Bennington Rotary President Ted Bird, Syed Irtaza Ali Shah, Afghan exchange student visiting separately, Amina Ameer ud din Chughtai. (Mark E. Rondeau)
Pakistani Rotarians come to share goodwill
MARK E. RONDEAU
The Bennington Banner May 228, 2011
BENNINGTON --Coming to the United States less than a week after U.S. forces killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, members of a Rotary International Group Study Exchange team from that country focused on their mission of bridging national and other divides through personal contact during a visit to the Bennington Rotary Club at Bennington Station.
The five-member team, only one of whom had been to the U.S. before, came to this country on May 7. Since then they have been the guest of Rotary District 7870 in Southern Vermont and southern New Hampshire. They visited Bennington on May 20 and will be returning to Pakistan on June 6.
Each GSE team member gave a presentation during the local visit, starting with Satwat Butt, the eldest member of the delegation and team leader, and the only one who had been to the U.S. previously.
Like two of the other team members, Butt is from Lahore, a city of more than 6 million near the border with India in the north-central
section of the nation. He is married, with two children. His older son is studying in London; his younger son is in high school Pakistan. He is an executive in the insurance business.
Lahore is a cultural and historical center of Pakistan, he said. "People say that those who have not seen Lahore are not born," he said. "You have to come to Lahore. ... You will all be welcome. Our houses, our homes ... will be open to greet you."
In showing a map of Pakistan and reviewing its regions for the audience, Butt noted the area on the border with Afghanistan where conflict is endemic.
"There is extremism and terrorism, and it is restricted upon this area," he said. "But with the exit of Osama bin Laden we are seeing a breeze, a ray of hope that finally terrorism and extremism will finish of our country. And we are all peace lovers, we all sing the same song, whether it is in America or in Pakistan. Everywhere around the world we just know one song and that is the song of love, peace, world understanding and goodwill."
In charitable works within Pakistan, Rotary has worked with the government, Rotary International and international agencies to
eradicate polio from the country. Rotary has also worked to assist the victims of devastating floods in Pakistan. Vermont-New Hampshire Rotary District 7870 has participated in such projects in Pakistan as building a library, building a computer lab, and in giving loans to small villages to buy cows for income generation, Butt said.
Sobia Nosheen is from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in northwest Pakistan on the border with Afghanistan. "I am currently pursuing a career in social reformation, and I am the founder of an organization, which is a one-in-three social welfare organization, it is called Olasyer, ‘People’s Friend.’"
This group is "working for women’s empowerment as well as for the physically challenged kids who have lost their limbs in wars (and) emergency relief," she said.
Though not a Rotarian, Nosheen joined the trip because Rotary was providing an opportunity " to the Pakistani people to visit the American people and live with them and tell them how peaceful the Pakistani nation is."
She is a Pashtun, comes from a Pashtun province, and people think Pashtuns are warriors and barbarians, she said. "That is what we hear on TV," she said. "I am a peaceful person and I am here to make friends with the American people."
Nosheen showed photos of Pashtun children. "The reason why I’m here is to invite everyone to raise your voice against the terrorism over there, because these kids are not terrorists," she said. "After the pictures were taken, who knows, maybe some of them or most of them would have died in bomb blasts."
In a brief interview after the meeting, Butt said the purpose of the Rotary exchange is to develop leadership and skills among young professionals early in their careers.
"So each member of the team is supposed to be an ambassador of goodwill and world understanding and they are the ambassadors of their respective cultures, heritage, and ambassadors of their vocation, profession," he said. "Basically, the dream is that we have come here to light the candle of peace and love over here. So for us, politics starts with this and ends with this." He said people have been very kind in Vermont and New Hampshire and not talked much about politics.
Ali Ashtar Naqvi, a civil judge from Lahore, said that politics and Rotary have different languages. "Rotary language is goodwill, peace, and world understanding," with no class or religious differences and no discrimination, he said. "So I would say that Rotary actually stands for one country and this is actually the magic of this organization, that we are together."
Butt said that even in the times when Pakistan experienced much tension with its neighbor and rival India, "We as Rotarians always
talked about peace. We always talked about family exchanges, friendship exchanges and we always tried (to) light the candle of hope.
"And like ... I said earlier, we left it to the governments of the two countries to do whatever they want to do, but we will do what we think should be done and every good human being should be doing."
When people here during the visit learned about the culture and people of Pakistan, and about how the people of Pakistan are so
innocent and peaceful and kind, "Their misperceptions have changed to good perceptions," he said. "It’s only a very few people and they are the barbarians, they are the terrorists ... they don’t believe religion, they don’t have any human hearts. They are killing our people. We have lost 30,000 people. We have lost 5,000 soldiers."
The other young Pakistani professionals visiting include Amina Ameer ud din Chughtai, who is a teacher and teacher trainer from Lahore who loves to fly kites. "I love having adventures going around the country and seeing different places and I make sure that I get myself photographed in an odd position that will scare my father," she said, showing photos of herself in a precarious position near a steep drop and near the ocean.
Syed Irtaza Ali Shah is from Gujranwala, an industrial town near Lahore, and is a retail administration manager for Shell Pakistan. He
was wearing a Hemmings Motor News jacket when interviewed. "I’m in love with old cars," he said, when asked about it.
At the end of the program, Butt gave Rotary president Ted Bird numerous gifts, including a cap dedicated to the Rotary fight against polio. Bird in turn had some gifts for the Pakistani visitors, including a book about Vermont for everyone in the delegation.
"Thanks very much for coming, thanks very much for your nice presentation," Bird said. "Ladies and gentlemen, this is what Rotary is all about."